A paradigmatic and methodological examination of information systems research from 1991 to 2001

  • Chen W
  • Hirschheim R
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Abstract. The field of information systems (IS) has evolved for more than three decades. Although many schools of thought have emerged and even become well established, few historical analyses of research paradigms and methodologies have been undertaken. One of the rare exceptions is Orlikowski & Baroudi (1991). Yet, the IS research community has evolved substantially since 1991 in many aspects. A variety of journal outlets have emerged and become well established. More attention has been paid to paradigmatic and methodological issues. Political and professional contexts have also changed noticeably. Therefore, it should be an opportune time for the field to ask: ‘What changes are manifested in journal publications?’‘Is the field making progress regarding pluralism in IS research?’‘How will the field's publications practices change in the future?’ The purpose of this paper is to investigate these questions and, in turn, reflect on the paradigmatic and methodological progress made since 1991. We examined 1893 articles published in eight major IS publication outlets between 1991 and 2001. Our findings suggest that the long-term endeavours of interpretivist researchers might need to continue because the paradigmatic progress appears somewhat inconsequential; positivist research still dominates 81% of published empirical research. In particular, US journals, as opposed to European journals, tend to be more positivist, quantitative, cross-sectional and survey oriented. With respect to research design, survey research is still the most widely used method (41%), although case studies have gained substantial recognition (36%). Further, the increase of qualitative research (30%), empirical studies (61%) and longitudinal cases (33%) at the expense of laboratory experiments (18%) might suggest that IS researchers have become more interested in obtaining scientific knowledge in real world settings. In summary, we suggest that the field has been dominated by the positivist paradigm, despite calls to the contrary. Indeed, if the field was to truly embrace pluralism, it would have to find ways to fundamentally change the publication practices of the journal system, including the current tenure and promotion system, which pose considerable obstacles for the acceptance of alternative paradigms.

Author-supplied keywords

  • IS research
  • Interpretivism
  • Paradigms
  • Positivism
  • Research methodology

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